Written by: Dean Fellman – Director, Center for First Americans Forestlands & Jen Youngblood – U.S. Forest Service Tribal Liaison to the College of Menominee Nation
The Center for First Americans Forestlands (CFAF) is the embodiment of a partnership between the College of Menominee Nation’s (CMN) Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and four divisions of the USDA Forest Service (USFS): Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry (NA), the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), the Eastern Region of the National Forest System (R9), and Northern Research Station (NRS). The partnership has historically operated under a five year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This signing event held April 19, 2016, marked the third formal signing ceremony since 2004, cementing the partnership through the year 2020.
This partnership is unique because it brings together multiple branches of the Forest Service and a Tribal College to work collaboratively and provide a centralized source of forestry and natural resource information for Tribal nations. CFAF was developed as a Center at SDI to provide communities throughout Indian County with access to training and resources from CMN and the USFS. These resources are also provided through the Tribal College and University network allowing engagement with a more diverse audience while bridging the gaps between Tribal students and Tribal Professionals.
As originally intended, CFAF assists Tribal professionals and students in achieving excellence and continues to serve as a model for federal and Tribal partnerships. Other partnerships within this relationship include academic institutions and other federal agencies conducting research in forestry and related issues with a common cause for public good. These diverse relationships serve both Indian Country and communities outside of Indian County to facilitate stewardship efforts of lands and natural resources within their jurisdictions.
The MOU signing was attended by Deputy Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Arthur “Butch” Blazer, Dr. S. Verna Fowler, President of the College of Menominee Nation and approximately 50 attendees who included Tribes, partners and other stakeholders. A welcome to all guests visiting the Menominee Nation was provided by Joan Delabreau, Chairwoman.
A highlight of the event was the poster displays which were presented by CMN students and posters about “What the Forest Means to Me” provided by 20 fourth grade students from the Menominee Tribal School. Deputy Undersecretary Blazer spoke of the importance of working with Tribal youth to move forward to the future.
The MOU signing was more than a public relations event and dignitaries present representing both sides of the partnership are the embodiment of each entity they represent, whether it be Tribal or federal. Their presence and comments during the ceremony reaffirmed the commitment to advancing the ideals upon which the partnership and CFAF were founded. This reaffirmation of the partnership is an important part of recognizing and maintaining this long-term relationship built on the early ideals of those individuals whose dreams have become a reality.